The Watertown-Mayer volleyball team will feature a new coach this year, and with it, a new look.
Andrea Raser, who spent the last five seasons as an assistant under Janis Runka, will take over for Runka this year, and has some changes in store for her team.
“We changed the rotation, and we have girls in positions they’ve never played before,” said Raser, who is entering her first season as a head coach after playing collegiately at Concordia-Moorhead, coaching there for a year, and also at Mound-Westonka for a year. “It’s all new, and totally different.”
Raser said she expects it to take a little time for her squad to adjust to their new roles and rotations, but hoped much of that would be ironed out during three matches at the season-opening Albany Tournament last Friday. Overall, she thought her team was adjusting quickly.
“They’ve all done a good job stepping into the role they’ve been given and just going,” she said. “They haven’t complained about it. They’ve just done it and stayed positive.”
New positions and rotations won’t be the only thing new for the Royals. So will life without Maggie Perrel and Kate Theisen, arguably their top two all-around players last season, who both graduated after receiving all-conference honors. Perrel led the team with 236 kills at a clip of 3.63 per set, while also adding 36 aces, 152 digs and 62 blocks. Theisen had 128 kills, 192 digs and 16 aces.
However, the Royals do return their second-leading hitter, junior Ashley Vealetzek, who posted 147 kills at a clip of 2.01 per set last year. She also had 141 digs, 22 blocks and 21 aces.
“Ashley Vealetzek will easily step into that role as a power player at the net,” Raser said.
Also important for the Royals is the return of senior setter Chelsea Wandersee. In her first year as the starter last season, Wandersee posted 617 assists, 35 aces, 145 digs, and was adept at quick kills at the net, posting 68 on the year.
“Chelsea coming back as a returning varsity setter is huge to have that experience,” Raser said.
When it comes to play at the net, the Royals will be a little inexperienced. Senior Ashley Kelzer is back after posting 57 kills, 20 aces and 58 digs last year, but Kiana Paulson, who would have been the team’s second-leading returning hitter this year after posting 51 kills a year ago, is being shifted from the right side to play libero this year. She had 138 digs a year ago.
Moving from the middle to right side this year will be Amanda Wabbe, and Victoria Lynch is expected to move straight from the C-squad last year into the varsity lineup this year to boost the team’s presence at the net.
Other returning players for the Royals who saw extended playing time last year include sophomore Katelyn Yliniemi (69 digs, 8 kills) and senior Britni Grossinger (29 digs, 11 aces).
Senior captains this year will be Wandersee, Paulson and Kelzer, while Wabbe and Grossinger make up the rest of the senior class.
“I’m excited,” Raser said. “We have such a positive group. They’re great leaders, and I think we’re going to step up to any challenge that our section or conference brings.”
Raser said she expects teams like Jordan, Belle Plaine and Mayer Lutheran to once again be the cream of the crop in the MRC.
“In our conference, volleyball is getting stronger every year, so we need to do that as well,” she said. I think we’re going to do that. We’ll step up to the challenge.”
The Royals opened the season last Friday in Albany, and then returned to action Tuesday, Aug. 27, when they opened the home portion of their schedule at home against Glencoe-Silver Lake. The Royals will return to action Tuesday, Sept. 3, when they travel to take on Holy Family at 7 p.m.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]